In Sept 2021, Lifehouse participants listen to Bella Mayorga, education coordinator for SF Bay NERR, talk about salt marsh harvest mice along Turtle Back Nature Trail.

Salt marsh experts lead walk for visitors with disabilities

Park partners and a local organization team up for an outstanding event

What do pickleweed, oyster shells, and a turkey vulture puppet have in common? They were all key teaching tools during a very special guided walk this fall along China Camp’s Turtle Back Nature Trail.

Earlier this year, Friends of China Camp teamed up with our partners at San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (SF Bay NERR). The mutual goal was to create ways to showcase NERR’s ongoing research at China Camp, and share the park with traditionally underserved communities. 

Guided walk on our ADA-compliant Turtle Back Trail

Since there are often barriers that make it more difficult for people with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors, we wanted to make sure that was not the case at China Camp. So in 2020, our park maintenance volunteers resurfaced our ADA-compliant, ¾-mile Turtle Back Nature Trail. Our next goal was to connect our local community to our newly restored outdoor resource and to offer a meaningful educational experience.

A call was put out to Lifehouse, a San Rafael-based nonprofit organization that provides services and programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A September date was picked. On the appointed (thankfully smoke-free and beautiful) morning, more than a dozen participants, some in wheelchairs, showed up at the Turtle Back trailhead, ready for the walk.

“With the pandemic, people we serve have gotten a little slow and sedate,” noted Kate O’Connor, Director of Programs and Operations at Lifehouse, at the start of the walk. “This event gives us a great chance to get outside and start moving again.”

“I haven’t been outside and seen this in a long time, and I like it.”

 Stacy Brown, Lifehouse participant

Bella Mayorga, Education Coordinator at SF Bay NERR, led the walk. With vibrant descriptions, and with the help of that vulture puppet, shells, bits of pickleweed, and other show-and-tell items, Bella kept everyone engaged and excited about the park’s vibrant salt marsh habitat, and how important it is to protect. 

Friends of China Camp Program Director Sheila Coll made a special shout out to SF Bay NERR Research Assistant Nyri Scanlon, who uses a wheelchair. Nyri, explained Sheila, was the one who had suggested last year that Turtle Back’s trail surface needed some TLC. That extensive project wrapped last spring, creating a smooth, navigable route, not just for people using wheelchairs and walkers, but also families with strollers, or people who can’t navigate more challenging trails.

“This trail helps show the disabled community how special a marsh is,” added Nyri as she rolled down the trail. “It lets them see the whole ecological process, from the ground to the animals in the sky.”

Thanks to everyone who helped create this outstanding event, and for all those who participated. 

Read more about SF Bay NERR’s team of female scientists who study China Camp. 

Photo credit: Harriot Manley